Research Education Organizing Action

When Paul de Armond said that getting into a negotiating situation with people who have no interest in negotiating with you is inappropriate, his remark was based on considerable experience counseling human rights activists and organizers. While diplomacy or negotiation has its place, in the field of zero sum game politics, it is arguably a waste of time. When this negotiation functions as a means of one’s opposition gaining intelligence on you and your allies -- as is the case with government institutions that behave as though they're above the law -- diplomacy is self-defeating. As former research director at Public Good Project – a privately-funded network of researchers, analysts and activists engaged in defending democracy – Paul has seen more than his share of concerned citizens and good government groups blind-sided by an opposition playing by a different set of rules. Part of this he puts down to the fact that the models they bring to these situations don’t work. Often, he notes, their response to a problem is in a complete vacuum of information. While it's real easy to get a lot of people involved in a community response, he says, it'll usually be ineffective because they don't know what they're up against. "Opposition research,” he says, “doesn't even occur to many organizations. They know nothing but their own ideological stance and these fantasies they bill to the opposition. They start reacting to that fantasy and the opposition just runs right over them." Part of the problem, according to Paul, is mainstream media. Reporters interview somebody who doesn't have a clue, basically saying things they read in some newspaper article quoting some other clueless person who didn't know what they were talking about. "But because it showed up in the newspaper, it ends up very circular and it's extremely hard to break." Requests for background on political opponents or community disrupters, he notes, are extremely rare. "If people have figured out that's what's necessary, it's not all that hard to dig up. The thing is that they don't figure out that's necessary." In 1996, Paul developed a research training course for a university class to identify the locus of antisocial/anti-democratic activity that advocated depriving people of their civil liberties or civil rights, or stripping them of the protection of the law, or making them 2nd class citizens. The students, using their three textbooks: The Investigative Reporter and Editor's Handbook, Manual on Opposition Research, and Get the Facts on Anybody, then did full background checks on the anti-democratic activists. As Paul points out, though, most advocacy groups are strictly oriented to public policy, not the process. They do not do opposition research on anti-democratic groups opposing their policy through intimidation, harassment, and violence, because they do not engage in opposition activity. They are engaged in the political diplomatic model. So in terms of the training he does, it's been personal, not institutional. "Individual reporters, individual members of non-profits, once converted from the ideological projection model," he says,"where you imagine what the opposition is and respond to your imagination, actually get into research, analysis, and intervention"--what Paul calls the public health model. The four basic models typically used to combat anti-democratic groups are law enforcement, political diplomacy, military intervention, and pressure group. None of them work for this type of conflict. In Paul’s mind, pressure groups tend to make things worse. However, when people start acting from the public health model -- which is to look at the causative mechanism, how the behavior is transmitted, and what sort of interventions can either prevent or modify it -- they see how effective it is. Ideologically driven intervention, the diplomatic model, tries to alter people's beliefs in hope they'll modify their behavior. Paul acknowledges that some of the regional human rights organizations have done very good educational work, but that their training has been in community organizing along the lines of pressure group tactics, as opposed to intervention. The beneficiary organizations, he says, often end up functioning as quasigovernmental agencies, or bureaucratic grant machines. Observing what happens when hate mongers arrived, he says these groups would showboat, engaging in moral theatrics, but the instant the provocateurs leave, "The real hell will break loose and all those people will melt away like snow in a heavy rain..”

* Devin Burghart, vice president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, played a key role in defeating the nationwide anti-immigrant campaign in 2005-2006 in the US. In that capacity, he organized a monitoring and reporting system in order to prioritize resource mobilization based on information generated from community-based researchers and organizers around the country. Noting that it's always a challenge for conventional activists and moral authorities to get beyond stereotypes, Devin says, "The rewards clearly outweigh any kind of work that it might take to do that. We found people very responsive to coming together, particularly dealing with these issues, to work towards common goals." In creating moral barriers to hate-mongering,” he says, "often, it's finding leaders who are initially willing to speak out, and then having those leaders speak in a rhetoric which resonates with the particular constituency...have them develop the rhetorical strategies." The training Burghart has done involves a mixture of opposition research, propaganda analysis, and investigative techniques, depending on the needs and the interests of the people involved and what they're facing in their community, as well as putting it into a framework of how to look at the situation. The training, he says, helped establish a regional network of organizations that keep an ear to the ground doing local research, while continuing to develop themselves organizationally. This base of people, trained in research, he notes, allowed him to look around and strategically target new problem areas, using locally generated incident reports. Devin also notes that having a network in place, and having the research to support claims, has been an essential component of building trust and credibility as a media source. "It's allowed people in local communities to establish a relationship with the media and to help frame the story in a way in which they see as more appropriate than the other side." Burghart claims research is essential for several reasons. "By knowing your opposition, you not only know whom it's going to be impossible to work with, but also which constituencies those groups are out there trying to recruit. By figuring out those two things, you can employ a strategy...to isolate the source of the hatred...inoculate those constituencies which are potentially vulnerable...and help them understand the issue before the other side does." "Consequently," says Devin, "you can do the education and organizing work you need to do for the long term to move beyond that problem." "Additionally," he notes, "It also can show you where you're weak and allow you to do better advocacy. Because you'll know in advance the arguments that the other side is making, you can refute them effectively. It can also help you plot a better course in dealing with conflict when you know what the opposition is up to." As Burghart observes, "People often think that research is something that gets handed to them in the intelligence report, or something that they can find on the Internet for free, which is simply not the case. You have to have an organizational understanding that it's important to conduct research and to respect its findings. It's not something someone hands you or you pick up in the local newspaper--it takes a lot more than that to do it effectively." "Additionally," he says, "they need to do a better job of expanding their overall internal institutional memory, to keep the information they bring in through research and analysis, and disburse it throughout the organization, developing the organizational respect required to internalize it enough to keep the information flowing beyond any single person's involvement." "Lastly," he says, "they need to develop some financial and organizational stability, so that groups aren't just popping up on an ad hoc basis when an incident arises." "By being engaged with regional and national organizations," Burghart says, "you can break down that barrier of isolation and share information across borders and expand your scope, and also make sure you're not the only ones who have that information." "Because sometimes," he says, "you'll find in one particular community, one little bit of information may not be important to you, but it may mean a lot to someone else."As he observes, "It also helps, conversely,

to break down the kind of myopic experience of when people who tend to do research can sometimes think that their local community is representative of the entire world. It helps to maintain perspective." * Tarso Luis Ramos, executive director at Political Research Associates, says, "A very mistaken notion of power, but a prevalent one, is that knowledge is power; that correct information is enough to discredit illegitimate arguments or organizing efforts. Our experience has been that's simply not true." Believing that it's critical for community-based organizations to develop some level of research capacity, Tarso says they need access to training and then follow up support for existing staff or leadership. "I think", says Tarso, "a large challenge is working with organizations to determine how much of their resources should be allocated to research, and arriving at a specific plan they stick to in relation to that. I think most organizations will see the value of research, if they don't already, in a relatively short period of time." The other problem organizations encounter, says Ramos, is in making the research more strategic, by which he means linking it to strategy development, defining research needs in relation to that strategy. In terms of the most practical development of community based research capacity, Tarso says that organizations focused in some other arena -- such as electoral and legislative research -- may not see grass roots organizing as an area for monitoring, noting, "People who are in some way organic researchers...the kinds of people who keep newspaper clippings, who maybe attend meetings, who try to dig up information on what's going on in their community that's bothering them...exist in many communities and are incredible resources....It's been important to me as a researcher to identify people like that." In closing, Tarso proposes that in order to build collective power, it's necessary for individuals of this sort to become connected as leaders within organizations, even if the primary function of those individuals continues to be research, as opposed to trying to get them to do organizing. As he bserves, "Often times researchers and organizers have really different skills sets and you shouldn't try to do both things. But I think making those connections is vital." In his travels around the country, long time Civil Rights researcher Chip Berlet says he has found a lot of local people are good with research skills. “What we need to do”, he says, “is just get folks understanding that you need to pass on those skills.” The view that hate and violence, based on ignorance and fear, must be treated as a social disease requiring research, education, and organizing strategies of prevention, as well as intervention where outbreaks occur, reinforces these researchers insistence on the need for functioning networks, that link local concerned citizens with regional and national information and training resources. The difficulties pointed out in working with and relying on government agencies, law enforcement, and media -- to build tolerance and justice, or to constrain intolerant behavior -- place all the more burden on the groups and individuals who commit themselves to this very special purpose. The need to develop respect for research -- in order to act and organize around information, rather than ideology -- the need to train others in the methods, and the need to develop institutional memory within the groups organized for this purpose, is both daunting and exhilarating. The only thing worse than facing a formidable challenge, though, is living with despair over not knowing what to do.

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